"We (scientists) are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt...There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death...(We) urge the governments of the world to ...find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.
− From the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, issued in London on 9 July, 1955.
This impassioned appeal for the elimination of all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction was an initiative by two of the world's most famous peace campaigners of the 20th century. One of them, Albert Einstein, tops the list of the greatest scientists in modern times. The other, Bertrand Russell, was a philosopher, mathematician and historian who continues to have a big impact on young minds even today. The manifesto was signed by a large number of eminent scientists and global figures such as Linus Pauling, Max Born, Hideki Yukawa, Joseph Rotblat, Percy W. Bridgman, Leopold Infeld, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Herman J. Muller and Cecil F. Powell.
Russell-Einstein Manifesto 1955
The Russell-Einstein Manifesto was issued at the height of the Cold War between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The Cold War ended nearly 25 years ago. Along with the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union too came to an end. Indeed, the USSR-controlled Eastern Bloc itself has ceased to exist. Even the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the only time when the world came close to a nuclear war on account of the brinkmanship between the capitalist USA and the communist Soviet Union, is a forgotten episode, now that Washington and Havana have re-established diplomatic relations.
"It seems that the human race has not learned from Hiroshima... In 1945, the USA was the sole possessor of atomic weapons. Today the world has nine countries with such deadly weapons."
Nevertheless, as the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the following choice that the Russell-Einstein Manifesto presented before the global community six decades ago remains as menacingly alive as before:
"Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?"
It seems that the human race has not learned from Hiroshima, where, on that fateful morning of on 6 August, 1945, the United States dropped an atom bomb and killed 140,000 people. Those who survived, known as the hibakusha, were exposed to the bomb's malignant radiation, their suffering prolonged.
In 1945, the USA was the sole possessor of atomic weapons. Today the world has nine countries with such deadly weapons - the USA, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Between them, they have as many as 15,695 nuclear weapons. With enormous effort, Iran has been prevented, albeit temporarily, from becoming the tenth nuclear-weapons power, thanks to the historic agreement signed between the government in Tehran and the P5+1 grouping (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) last month.
Advocates of nuclear weapons advance the MAD (mutual assured destruction) theory to convince the rest of the world that nuclear weapons possessed by rival countries actually guarantee peace. Indeed, the theory is MAD in more ways than one. We are supposed to believe that the nuclear weapons are harmless toys because, though they can kill, they will never be used. And they will never be used because of mutual deterrence.
" In the absence of a complete and irreversible elimination of these WMDs, how can the international community ensure that non-state actors and terrorist organisations such as ISIS will not get their hands on them?"
How smart - actually, how stupid - is this argument! Can the nuclear-armed countries give fool-proof guarantee that the weapons will never be used? And if one country uses and its rival retaliates, will the destruction be limited only to the two countries? How can new countries be stopped from building nuclear weapons of their own, if the ones already possessing them show no inclination whatsoever to get rid of them? In the absence of a complete and irreversible elimination of these WMDs, how can the international community reliably ensure that non-state actors and terrorist organisations such as ISIS will not get their eager hands on them?
Mahatma Gandhi as a Peace Dove - Illustration by Ranga
How Mahatma Gandhi made me rethink my stand on India's nuclear weapons
Many people in the world think that nuclear weapons are needed to strengthen national security. I, too, was one of them. Even though I had been an active member of the nuclear disarmament movement during my student days, like millions of Indians, I believed in this myth when our government, headed by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made India a nuclear-weapons nation in May 1998. Indeed, I was working closely with him in the prime minister's office those days. I have since become a convert - rather, I got reconverted −to the cause of a nuclear weapons-free world. I now believe that India's moral strength and stature as a campaigner for world peace, and especially for global nuclear disarmament, was diminished after it started to build its own nuclear arsenal.
My reconversion started when I seriously started re-reading Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts on nonviolence. The more I reflected on this matter, the more I was convinced about the moral weight of Gandhi's message: "We Indians have better work to do, a better mission to deliver to the world."
It is a message that he conveyed repeatedly and insistently throughout his leadership of India's freedom movement. In his article titled "The Doctrine of the Sword" in 1920, long before nuclear weapons came on the global scene, Gandhi with extraordinary prescience had warned against India treading the militaristic path of Western powers.
"If India takes up the doctrine of the sword, she may gain momentary victory. Then India will cease to be pride of my heart. I am wedded to India because I owe my all to her. I believe absolutely that she has a mission for the world. She is not to copy Europe blindly. India's acceptance of the doctrine of the sword will be the hour of my trial. I hope I shall not be found wanting."
Mahatma Gandhi as Peace Messgenger - Illustration by Jeff Clark
Gandhi returned to this theme again, in Young India of 6 April, 1921:
"If India makes violence her creed, and I have survived, I would not care to live in India. She will cease to evoke any pride in me. My patriotism is subservient to my religion. I cling to India like a child to its mother's breast because I feel that she gives me the spiritual nourishment I need. She has the environment that responds to my highest aspirations. When that faith is gone, I shall feel like an orphan without hope of ever finding a guardian."
Only a saint with the good of the whole world at heart, and only an enlightened patriot with the good of his own country at heart, could have uttered such bold words. No leader in modern history has so categorically and courageously subordinated his love for his own nation to his love for humanity and his love for Satya (Truth) and Ahimsa (Nonviolence).
When the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gandhi lent his voice to an outraged humanity's condemnation of this barbaric act. In an article in Harijan of 7 July, 1946, titled Atom Bomb and Ahimsa", he wrote in anguish: "The atomic bomb has deadened the finest feeling that has sustained mankind for ages. There used to be the so-called laws of war which made it tolerable. Now we know the naked truth. War knows no law except that of might."
"What will it be if there is a third time? A mistake? A betrayal? No, it'll be a suicidal folly by the human race."
When a British journalist asked him in 1946 for his views on nuclear weapons, Gandhi reiterated his conviction: "I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science." The journalist asked him if the atom bomb had antiquated nonviolence. "No. It is the only thing the atom bomb cannot destroy. I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, 'Unless now the world adopts nonviolence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind'."
Gandhiji addressing the Inter-Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi April 2, 1947
In one of the finest orations of his life, Gandhi articulated India’s – indeed, renascent Asia’s – message of a nuclear weapons-free world when he addressed the closing session of the Inter-Asian Relations Conference held on April 2, 1947 in New Delhi. Sharing the dais him with him was Jawaharlal Nehru, who would soon become India’s first prime minister. Reminding the representatives from the newly liberated or soon-to-liberated countries that the great prophets and religious lights such as Zoroaster, Buddha, Mahavir, Krishna, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad were all born in Asia, Gandhi said: “The message of the East, the message of Asia, is not to be learnt through European spectacles, not by imitating the tinsel of the West, the gunpowder of the West, the atom bomb of the West. If you want to give a message again to the West, it must be a message of ‘Love’, it must be a message of ‘Truth’.”
Gandhi added that “Asia has to conquer the West” morally, which is so fundamentally different from the West’s economic, political and military conquest of the East. But he also said that his was a dream of “One World” – not the East Vs. the West, but the East and the West together. “The West is today pining for wisdom. West today is in despair of multiplication of atom bombs, because a multiplication of atom bombs means utter destruction, not merely of the West, but it will be a destruction of the world, as if the prophecy of the Bible is going to be fulfilled and there is to be a perfect deluge. Heaven forbid that there be that deluge, and through man’s wrongs against himself. It is up to you to deliver the whole world, not merely Asia but deliver the whole world from that wickedness, from that sin. That is the precious heritage your teachers, my teachers, have left to us.”
Thus, it was my teacher, Mahatma Gandhi, who changed my mind on India’s nuclear programme.
Hiroshima Nuclear Dome - 'Hell on Earth' painting by Hideshima Yukio - Courtesy Nihon Tusho Center
My experience at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial
The second trigger for my reconversion to the cause of universal and immediate nuclear disarmament was my visit, in 2010, to Hiroshima, the Japanese city that bears the awful birthmark of the nuclear age. As I stood before the Atomic Bomb Dome, a mute and mutilated witness to the barbaric devastation caused by human against human, I could feel a sorrowful silence in the air that has remained undisturbed since that eerie August morning in 1945. The sorrow turned to horror when I walked through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Its exhibits carry a grim warning about what could happen to our world if the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to befall any other places in a future nuclear war - or even in the event of an accidental nuclear explosion.
In the museum's souvenir shop, I bought a book of poems on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the poems is by Hiroshima-born Sadako Kurihara (1913-2005), who lived in the city and was exposed to radiation. With haiku-like brevity and simplicity, her poem conveys a message of unyielding resolve:
"It may have been a mistake the first time;
But it's a betrayal the second time.
We'll not forget
The promise we've made to the dead."
Hiroshima was the first time, but it was not a mistake. Dropping the atomic bomb on this hapless city was a deliberate act by the US government. Nagasaki, which was flattened and burnt on August 9, three days later, was more than a betrayal. It was a conscious re-enactment of the crime.
I was benumbed when I came out of the museum. As I took a slow stroll in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, I wondered: What will it be if there is a third time? A mistake? A betrayal? No, it'll be a suicidal folly by the human race.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park with the Nuclear Dome
At the centre of the park is an arch-shaped concrete monument covering a cenotaph that bears the names of all the people who perished in the bomb attack. The epitaph on the cenotaph reads: "Rest in Peace, for the error shall not be repeated."
With nearly 16,000 nuclear weapons amongst them, how can the nine nuclear-armed countries assure the present and future generations that the error shall not be repeated?
True, dropping the atomic bomb was a deliberate decision taken by the then American government. However, at a deeper level, the error - rather, crime - was committed by the entire human race. America's action was the handiwork of the brute in man, a continuation of the long tradition of war and violence that has marred human history. All countries and all races in the world have contributed to this dishonourable tradition to a greater or a lesser degree.
"India should set an example by strengthening her moral voice through unilateral nuclear disarmament."
Hiroshima's Peace Park also has an Eternal Peace Flame that memorialises those who died due to the bomb attack and its horrible after-effects. The flame will remain lit until all nuclear weapons in the world are destroyed and our planet becomes free from the threat of nuclear suicide. The message of this Eternal Flame must never be forgotten. We must strive with redoubled conviction and vigour for the irreversible elimination of all nuclear weapons, and all other weapons of mass destruction, from the face of our beautiful planet. The main responsibility in achieving this goal undoubtedly rests with those nations that have stockpiled a huge armoury of such weapons. Nevertheless, India should set an example by strengthening her moral voice through unilateral nuclear disarmament.
Going further, peace-loving people all over the world must advocate for deep cuts in the indefensible overspending on military infrastructure by USA and other powers, including China and India. Military spending is the single biggest factor contributing to mass poverty in the world and also to the destruction of the environment. What humanity is crying for is demilitarisation of both international relations and scientific and technological research, so that its collective natural, intellectual and political resources can be deployed for solving the gigantic problems facing our world.
In short, a new Thought Revolution - rooted in the imperishable Gandhian ideals of truth and nonviolence, which India, more than any other country has devotedly served since time immemorial - is what the world is waiting for in the 21st century.
(Sudheendra Kulkarni, author of 'Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi's Manifesto for the Internet Age', was an aide to India's former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)